What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of school lunch?
Transport yourself back to your elementary school cafeteria. Are you shuddering at the haunting memory of the combined odor of sloppy joes and Tater Tots? Or perhaps having flashbacks of hair-nets, hash browns and hotdogs?
Kids at Aveson Global Leadership Academy in Los Angeles, California will likely have different - dare I say fonder? - memories of their school lunches than most of us. They may recall that time they couldn't have a side salad on Pizza Day because the lettuce from their school's organic garden was so fresh that cafeteria staff couldn't get rid of the tiny little ladybugs dancing all over the greens. Or maybe they'll remember the exact moment at which the interconnectedness of world cultures really clicked for them the day they prepared and sampled strikingly similar staple foods from around the world.
"We find it really important to break down cultural barriers and help students understand not only tolerance but acceptance of other cultures," said Lowell Bernstein, co-founder of Aveson Global Leadership Academy and Director of the school's groundbreaking Healthy Living and Culinary Arts Program. "When we teach our students about community and the integration of other cultures into our pluralistic tapestry here in Los Angeles, we find that one of the best ways to do it is in the kitchen and around the table."
As a member of the Asia Society International Studies Schools Network, a partnership of school districts and charter authorities across the country who are implementing creative strategies to successfully engage students in global learning, Aveson's Healthy Living and Culinary Arts program vertically integrates its international curriculum throughout all grade levels to create an intergenerational, globally competent community.
If you step into the Aveson dining room during lunchtime, you won't find long tables arranged in rows and settled by the usual public school cliques. Bernstein has thought this through down to the details. "Our students dine at round tables that allow everyone to look at each other and enjoy a shared experience," said Bernstein who also acknowledged the embarrassment felt by some kids from different ethnic backgrounds whose leftovers may look 'weird' to most kids in comparison to a Lunchable. "By providing them with a lunch, we're trying to get students to share in their dining experience so that we can support a discussion about what it is that we have in common rather than what it is that makes us different."
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